5 Most Inappropriate Holiday Gifts

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Holiday shopping can be a high-wire act during times of economic hardship that can turn seemingly innocent gift excess into an outright insult.

While Consumer Reports predicts holiday spending will grow 4% from last year to $707 per shopper this holiday season, uncertainty abounds. Unemployment is down from 9.8% last November, but still sits at 8.6%. That's well above the nation's 4.6% unemployment rate in November 2006 and isn't something Americans are adjusting to easily.

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Even the National Retail Federation, which recently upgraded its holiday forecast from an October estimate of 2.8% growth in the number of toys in Santa's sleigh this year to a 3.8% increase, has had its flying-reindeer-altitude optimism grounded by economic reality. When asked if the state of the U.S. economy would affect their holiday spending, 62% of NRF holiday survey respondents said yes. That's up slightly from 81.5% last year and comes with serious consequences for retailers.

About 83% of consumers worried about the economy are spending less overall this holiday season. More than a quarter will be traveling less or not at all. Another 14% will be making gifts for family and friends instead of buying them this year. A solid 11.6% are doing at least some of their holiday shopping at thrift stores.



Few others are feeling the urge to splurge this holiday season. Only 70% of all companies says they're having company holiday parties this year, which staffing firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says is down from 90% in 2007. There'll be a lot less cheer at the parties that remain after the amount of holiday parties serving booze dropped from 90% in 2000 to just 50% this year.

In light of this somber subtext, we took a good, hard look at this year's gift offerings and came up with five items that are wildly inappropriate for the current economic climate:

A Sex and the City/Devil Wears Prada/Confessions of a Shopaholic gift pack
If the abysmal failure of Sex and the City 2 in U.S. theaters last year and the outright dismissal of the Sarah Jessica Parker-led I Don't Know How She Does It this year made one thing clear, it's that recession-rattled Americans are done with Carrie Bradshaw, even when Parker's not playing her.

The Sex and the City series, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic aren't even a decade old and yet they've already become dated period pieces that will be analyzed by future generations wondering how Americans spent themselves into so much trouble. The self-indulgent, conspicuous-consumption-obsessed culture that followed HBO's original Sex and the City series reached its zenith on screen with Bradshaw planning and then calling off an extravagant, traffic-stopping wedding for specious reasons, Meryl Streep's faux Anna Wintour character dressing down an intern for dismissing haute couture and Isla Fisher's spendthrift Shopaholic hacking away at her last shred of self-restraint with an expensive heel to reach a frozen credit card.

We understand that standing on line for a six-pack at Magnolia Bakery and sipping Cosmopolitans at Balthazar's was probably a blast and all, but it's a much different time. That same friend from college who'd put her American Express Centurion card down for the mojito tab and spent more on a Louis Vuitton baguette in an afternoon than you spent on rent in two months was last seen in Zuccotti Park holding this sign: "I am just slightly more than twentysomething. I am a former relationship columnist with no other bankable skills. I am $138,000 in credit card debt. I am tired of 1% of the population owning 100% of the cute brownstones I want to live in. I am the 99%."

Turn-of-the-century hip-hop
Because it wasn't just the ladies spending freely during the past decade.

There's a reason why people who will never drink a drop of Cristal know what it is and what its gold cellophane wrapper looks like. There's a reason commuters who'll never drive a car more luxurious than a Toyota Avalon know about the Bentley marque. There's a reason even your grandmother has used the term "bling bling" within the past decade, and that reason is boom-era hip-hop.

Since about 2008 or so, however, B.G. and the Cash Money Millionaires' declarations about Lorenzos on Yokohama tires and Sean "Multiple Pseudonyms" Combs' long-fossilized assertion that it's all about the Benjamins seem dated at best and detached and irrelevant at worst. The post-recession era has seen former Cash Money Millionaires mainstay Lil' Wayne focus more on multimillion-selling rhymes than multimillion-dollar homes, former discretionary cheese spender Jay-Z repent for making Big Pimpin' and seek investment counsel from Warren Buffett and made now-Diddy Combs create the Europop outfit Dirty Money that eschews "drug money, illegal money or anything negative."

It's not that there isn't still a lot of money floating around the hip-hop world. Forbes' hip-hop Cash Kings list still has Jay-Z at No. 1 after earning $37 million last year, Diddy at No. 2 with $35 million and Wayne and Cash Money's Birdman tied at No. 4 with $15 million apiece. Much like Diddy's shiny suits and Paul Wall's gleaming grills, it's all just hidden away now.

DVDs of Bravo's Flipping Out or A&E's Flip This House
You know what's really frustrating to watch after a housing crisis when average home prices have dropped 5.8% in the past year and more than $35,000 since 2008? Some jackass trying to fix up an already expensive McMansion and sell it for profit.

You know what makes that even more frustrating? When the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says that same jackass and countless other jackasses helped create that housing crisis in the first place. A study released by the Fed last week pointed out that house flippers had a huge role in artificially inflating home prices between 2004 and 2006 -- as did the dopes who paid those prices -- but exacerbated the problem in 2007 and 2008 when their speculative investments started going bust and they didn't have the money to cover.

When the crisis began, 20% of home sales in soon-to-be sorry states such as Arizona and California were to people who owned three or more properties. By the time the housing crisis hit its peak between 2007 and 2009, those same speculators were responsible for 25% of all delinquent mortgages.

In mid-2005, when house flipping still seemed like a fun, victimless way to make a buck, A&E launched Flip This House to document the good times. By the second season, one of the show's local developers was already being accused of staging remodels and engaging in real estate fraud.

That same year, Bravo launched Flipping Out to capitalize on the trend, but star and home designer Jeff Lewis discovered early on which way the market was headed and chose to focus on luxurious home remodeling instead. The move saved the show, which just wrapped up its fifth season.

In either case, these shows -- which still have seasons available on Amazon ( AMZN) and elsewhere -- are probably the last thing you want to give a loved one who either can't get approved for a mortgage or is so underwater with their current mortgage that they're coming to Christmas dinner in a diving bell.

Anything made by Stuart Hughes
Back when The Simple Life-era Paris Hilton was bedazzling her mobile devices, maybe a gem-encrusted or gilded piece of electronics was a great pickup.

These days a $7.7 million Apple ( AAPL) iPad 2 dipped in 24-carat gold, encrusted with 12.5 carats of diamonds, sprinkled with 750 grams of 75 million-year-old ammolite, dusted with 57 grams of shaved Tyrannosaurus Rex thigh bone and topped with an 8.5-carat diamond just seems a bit excessive. Really, do you need that much ground T-Rex bone to accent a game of Words With Friends?

Hughes' creations harken back to a time nigh on 12 years ago when folks with money could play Louis XIV and gild any damned thing they liked and put it right on display in the public square. Want a $42 million bottle of limoncello with 13 carats of diamonds around the neck and an 18.5-carat diamond embedded in the label? You can pick it up and take it to Alinea by the weekend. A $466,000 18-carat gold Nintendo Wii? The Wii U will make it obsolete by next year, but why not?

Even if holiday shoppers do their best to keep it modest and restrict themselves to a $12,000 Nokia ( NOK) E71 old-school Symbian smartphone, the recipient might feel just a bit silly calling the temp agency from a phone ringed with three-carat diamonds.

Coaching material for the unemployed
The unemployed may not have a job, but they have a good sense that they're unemployed and a good handle on what to do about it -- i.e., look for work or use the unemployment insurance they paid into.

Know what they don't need? A book about being unemployed. No offense to the authors of Not What You Expected -- A Tale of Survival From the Recently Unemployed, The Joy of Not Working: A Book For The Retired, Unemployed and Overworked or Unemployed: How Desperation Led Me To The Worst Job Ever, but if the unemployed person in question didn't put these on his or her wish list or buy them, they're not going to want them.

They are terrible, terrible unsolicited gifts for people dealing with one of the more stressful and depressing experiences in American life. They already have people on one side telling them not to "freeload" by taking unemployment or medical benefits and take a job washing floors instead and they have folks on the other side telling them they're overqualified for that floor-washing gig and that they should really consider seeing the world or "finding" themselves.

Admittedly, books such as the graphic novel The Adventure of Unemployed Man bring some mirth to the misery. The unemployed person on your shopping list probably spends more time reading than you realize, though: Going through job listings, poring over the free selections at the local library, pulling a Howard Zinn volume out of the Occupy Pennsauken book tent. It takes a lot of effort to fill those nonworking hours, and your patronizing addition to their reading list isn't helping a damned thing.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.